The Impact of the Federal Government Shutdown on Immigration Services

Immigration services, like every other function of the federal government, has been adversely affected by the shutdown. An estimated 800,000 to 1 million federal employees have been furloughed, and there is no aspect of government that has escaped entirely unharmed.

However, immigration agencies that are under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have avoided the worst of the shutdown’s effects. As laid out in the agency’s 2013 contingency plan, the vast majority of DHS’ employees have continued to work during the shutdown because their functions “must be maintained under all circumstances to ensure the safety and security of the nation and its citizens,” or because their jobs are not funded by congressional appropriations. The DHS plan designates nearly 86 percent of the department’s roughly 231,000 employees as “essential,” meaning they would remain on the job for the “safety of human life or protection of property.”

For instance, almost all (97%) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) employees have been kept on since it is largely a fee-funded agency, with nearly 95-percent of its annual budget coming from the fees individuals pay to request immigration services and benefits. See Josh Hicks, How would a shutdown impact Homeland Security?, Wash. Post, September 30, 2013, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/federal-eye/wp/2013/09/30/how-would-a-shutdown-impact-homeland-security/. However, even these relatively minor staff reductions are likely to result in a noticeable delay in case processing as the shutdown continues.

Also largely unaffected has been Customs and Border Protection (CBP), with 88% of its workforce exempt and all ports of entry to the United States remaining open. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention and enforcement operations have also continued, but ICE chief counsel trial attorneys are only working on the detained docket during the shutdown.

The Department of State (DOS) has continued passport and visa operations as well as providing critical services to U.S. citizens overseas as, like USCIS, these activities are fee-funded and not affected by the lapse in appropriations.

However, those services provided by agencies that are not part of DHS or DOS will be impacted much more adversely. For instance, E-Verify, the program businesses use to check the immigration status of a worker, has been completely shut down. Additionally, the Justice Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review is focusing exclusively on the detained docket.

The Department of Labor (DOL) has largely ceased providing immigration services. It is currently not accepting nor processing any applications or related materials it receives, including Labor Condition Applications, Applications for Prevailing Wage Determination, Applications for Temporary Employment Certification, or Applications for Permanent Employment Certification. See AILA, What Happening During a Government Shutdown, available at http://www.aila.org/content/default.aspx?docid=35062. DOL’s Office of Administrative Law Judges will also be unable to perform any case-related activities, including conducting hearings. Hearings that have been previously scheduled will be canceled and will not be rescheduled until the shutdown has ended.

Murray Osorio PLLC are Fairfax Immigration Attorneys dedicated to their clients and to their clients’ families. If you have an immigration matter, it’s important that you contact us as soon as possible. An experienced Fairfax Immigration Lawyer could make all the difference- call us at (800) 929-7142, or fill out our contact form.

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